Bosnia-Herzegovina: Born a Writer


Adis Simidzijia is a refugee in Canada. Writer, poet, he found in writing a way to get closer to his memories and to describe his condition. He explains to MEDIAFUGEES the difficulties to tell in a certain language a story that was lived in another one.


I was born in Bosnia-Herzegovina at the dawn of an armed conflict that marked the memory of an entire continent. My childhood is therefore nothing banal in the eyes of those who have welcomed me. I left my home country at the age of ten. I learned a new language through which I can scribble on paper my past suffering. Each word that composes each of my stories is a tear shed in this sea of ​​pain that links exiled children.


Childhood can also be as sweet and joyful as the one told by Marcel Pagnol, who, with his trilogy The Glory of my Father, The Castle of my Mother, The Time of the Secrets, was able to exchange the eyes of the reader with those of the child to offer us a sweet melody in which memory intertwines with history.


My mother and brother often told me about the troubled times of my country ; they often told me about my childhood ; I always felt like they were talking about someone else.


Childhood is an inexhaustible source of inspiration that runs through the ages. In Journal of a Writer in Pajamas, the writer and academic, Dany Laferrière says: “One can sometimes understand certain subject choices of a writer by discovering what kind of childhood he had: happy or unhappy.” He pushes the idea even further by insinuating “that one is born a writer”. It was through contact with others that I understood what kind of childhood I had. In my eyes, it always seemed normal to me. Over time I realized that it was not.




My mother and brother often told me about the troubled times of my country. They often told me about my childhood. I always felt like they were talking about someone else. When my mother shows me family photos, my childhood friends and tells me about the memories, there is always an imposter that guides this self-discovery. As Orhan Pamuk, winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature, describes in his novel Istanbul when he wrote, “when they told me that the picture hanging on the wall was mine, all those questions that I was asking myself, my picture, the picture of someone who looks like me, my fellow, another house, confused my mind. ”


The author, in Montréal. Photo Alexandre Legault


This relation to memory through the memory of family members explains the process of creation in a writer who lived in exile. It is the responses of the family circle that guide our intuition in the fog that is life. It is their answers that make an extraordinary story, probably.


Pamuk goes further in Istanbul on the primary experiences of life and the influence they can have on us by writing:


Our first experiences of life are indeed, several years later, told by our parents, and we experience a terrible satisfaction to hear them narrate our story; when they talk to us about our first words, our first steps, we listen to them with the feeling that this is the story of another.


Laferrière suggests, similar to Pamuk, that it is not brash to inquire about the maternal figure on the daily life and life in the creative process: “Without telling him that we are in the process of writing a book, it is not bad to learn from your mother about these questions of everyday life.” The attention paid to the social circle is important because it allows a greater accuracy of events. It allows fantasy to be tested. It allows the clash of reality. The verification of facts.


Adis in Bosnia, one of the rare pictures spared from the war.




Writing can take a long time. It requires patience and rigor as expressed by Umberto Eco in his essay Confessions d’un jeune écrivain, when he says: “When I decided to write the novel, it was as if I opened a large closet where I had stacked my records for decades.” It was through the discovery of a cave in which I did not want to immerse myself for years that I began the act of writing. Reflection on the trauma related to my stories is spread over several years. Always in the shadow of prying eyes, I keep these memories warm. They bathe in my suffering before melting on the page and telling a story. Sometimes without my knowing. Forgetting, reflecting, escaping, and questioning are all a part of the writing process. I forgot, I reflected, I fled, I questions, I wrote to restore life.


When Laferrière says a writer is born, he means that some have a life so special that they have an inexhaustible source of inspiration within their reach. In other words, they would have such a unique life story that they only have to draw on their memories and experiences to make their story a literary work.


Marguerite Duras, Nelly Arcan, Orhan Pamuk, and Marcel Pagnol, to name but a few, fit perfectly into what we would define as the effect of the biographical peculiarity of the writer. In this category we could include all those who adopt an autobiographical or auto-fictional approach to writing. These people have extraordinary stories that fascinate readers. That’s why we read them.




One of the major obstacles that I have been confronted with is the order of language. How to accurately tell a story, a childhood, a history in one language when it was lived in another. The mother tongue plays a very important role in the construction of identity, the individuality of a person and their history. Learning a new language that has nothing in common with the one we learned in childhood can cause confusion for those who want to learn from their experiences to write. Especially when the writing is about childhood. By writing the story in a language that is totally different from your mother tongue, dealing with a story that is totally foreign to the cultural reality of the newly learned language, one realizes what Kelley-Lainé calls “the power of the mother tongue.” That “without the experience of this kind of cultural distance from another language, one does not realize how much reality can be constructed in a different way. ”


While a story about a child murdered in the midst of armed conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1993 told in Serbo-Croatian can take an extremely mundane form, since this kind of story is relatively common for those who have lived the war, it takes on an exceptional magnitude when told in French, and for good reason.


This is the strength of the story. Of writing. It never dies out. It never runs out of breath. It stands above everything. It is sublime. It transcends continents, languages, wars, and peace to touch the soul. To immerse the adult in discomfort by telling them what is most comfortable: childhood.


Translated from French by Joseph Coppolino 

This article was funded thanks to your donation.
Help us with our work.



  • Adis Simidzija

    Adis Simidzija is a poet. He is a member of Writers' society of Mauricie and a psychosocial counsellor. Adis was born in Mostar, in Bosnia Herzegovina. In 1988, he had to flee to Canada. He became a 9 year old refugee. Adis is an editor-in-chief at DL&DR editions ; he also founded a nonprofit called "Des livres et des réfugié-e-s" whose mission is to facilitate the integration of refugee kids at school. Adis has a diploma in sociology (UQAM).

  • Show Comments

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

comment *

  • name *

  • email *

  • website *

You May Also Like

Let them speak up 4/4

"I think people who are refugees are the people who should speak about it"

Let them speak up 2/4

"There's very obvious racism when people talk about refugees"